We were on a fabulous road trip in a campervan rented from Kuku Campers and had been working our way counter-clockwise around Iceland. We were now travelling from Húsavik. Laufás is on the route about 30 minutes before Akureyri and stopped at The Laufás Turf House and Museum.
The unique sod houses, also known as turf houses, are a type of home found in many parts of Iceland, including the small village of Laufás. These houses have been around for centuries and were once the standard form of housing in the country, perfectly adapted to the environment of Iceland. Despite their age, many of these houses are still standing today and have been well-preserved due to the harsh climate of Iceland.
The Laufas Turf House and Museum was a stop we were very much anticipating. This may look like several homes built together but it is all one house. This one was home for between 20 to 30 people, including the pastors and family of the neighbouring church as well as farm hands and domestic workers.
The harsh climate and volcanic soil makes it difficult for trees to grow and thrive isn Iceland. Over the centuries, settlers cleared native wooded areas for farming and grazing. Icelandic people developed unique construction methods using the resources available.... mainly turf and stone.
Blocks of turf were cut from the ground and stacked on top of one another and packed tightly to form walls. Wooden beams are covered with a layer of turf to form a roof. The houses are usually small, with one or two rooms, but they are warm and well insulated, making them suitable for the cold Icelandic climate. Notice how the turf bricks are laid in a herringbone pattern.
The house is cozy and comfortable. The door and windows are small, but they let in a surprising amount of light and provide a great view of the surrounding landscape.
Laufás is larger than most turf house, reflective of its role as a manor house for a wealthy vicarage. The oldest part of the house was built in 1840. Most of Laufás was rebuilt in the late 1860s by then-pastor, Reverend Halldórsson. The last resident moved to a newer parsonage in 1936. Today, the site is maintained and operated by the Akureyri Museum for the National Museum of Iceland.
The furnishings inside are from around 1900 and shows how Icelanders were living at that time. Living in a sod house required a great deal of hard work and maintenance. The turf needed to be cut and harvested in the summer months and stored for use during the winter. The walls and roof of the house needed regular maintenance and repair to prevent leaks and deterioration.
Despite the hard work, the sod houses provided a warm and comfortable living space, particularly during the long and cold Icelandic winters. The interior of an Icelandic sod house was typically quite simple, with a dirt floor and minimal furnishings. The house would be lit by candles or oil lamps, and the heat would come from a sod-burning fire burning in the middle of the room.
The main living space was often a single room that served as a kitchen, living room, and bedroom. Laufás has separate kitchen and bedroom areas. The wooden furniture was likely built by former residents during the long winter months.
Wool was carded and spun into flat skeins of yarns thick and thin. The wool was used to knit sweaters, hats, gloves and other winter necessities.
Without a toy store or building materials to waste, children found discarded objects around the house and farm to turn into games. Children played with found objects such as fish bones, sheep horns, and horse shoes.
These sod houses are excellent examples of sustainable living. The turf is a renewable resource, and provides natural insulation keeping the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Summer gardens were planted to grow hardy food crops to be preserved for use throughout the year.
Rhubarb is especially popular in Iceland. There is really tasty rhubarb jam, syrup, relish, and desserts available in every restaurant and café.
Laufás has been a religious gathering area since the beginnings of Christianity in Iceland. The Laufáskirkja church on site today was built in 1865.
The church is very proud of its decorative pulpit built in 1698.
Laufás Visitor Centre not only provides lots of great information about the sod house but also has a wealthy of information and advice about local wildlife, history and other activities in the area. There is a selection of local handicrafts, souvenirs, and refreshments available for purchase.
The museum is only open during the summer months from 10:00 - 17:00. The entrance ticket gives visitors access to 5 different local museums for up to a year for 2,ooo ISK ($19 CAD). Check their website for free family days with Icelandic ponies.
Visiting the sod house at Laufás is a unique and fascinating experience that provides a glimpse into Iceland's rich cultural heritage. If you're interested in Iceland's history, architecture, or just want to see something unique, the sod house at Laufus should be on your list.
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